Even better than it sounds: Cheesy and saucy onion parmigiana

By Evan Kleiman

Cipolle alla parmigiana is the sweet taste of the onion with its yielding texture, layered with sauce and cheese. Photo by Shutterstock.

Perhaps when you hear the word parmigiana or parmesan, your brain immediately goes to the tomato sauce-laden, sometimes cheesy casserole of eggplant or chicken parm. I’ve always loved the Italian way of making various ingredients “alla parmigiana,” napping eggplant or zucchini with a light tomato sauce or bechamel (that’s right, not all parms are red), perhaps a bit of mozzarella (fresh or brick) and a copious sprinkle of parmigiano reggiano. They are always in my rotation. 

On my most recent trip to Italy, I was introduced to cipolle alla parmigiana, or onion parm, by my friend Elizabeth Minchilli at L’Alchimista, a restaurant in Montefalco in the Umbria region of Italy. It’s even better than it sounds. The dish seems to be centered in Umbria as a way of honoring the local Cannara variety of red onion. The onions are fried as you would make onion rings, then layered with sauce and parmesan. So imagine the sweet taste of the onion with its yielding texture, layered with sauce and cheese. I ate gluttonously. 

Cipolle alla parmigiana (onion parmesan) honors the local Cannara variety of red onion at L'Alchimista in Montefalco, Italy. Photo by Evan Kleiman. 

Now, I’m home and the idea of frying onions in the summer heat isn’t so appealing. But given that I’m in Los Angeles, home of many delicious onion rings, I decided to cheat and buy the rings to make the parm. Your challenge is to not eat all the rings in the car on the way home. 

I asked you via Instagram what your favorite rings are in town and got surprisingly consistent responses. You can use either gritty breadcrumb, or cornmeal-dipped rings, or ones that are battered. I prefer the battered or simply floured, but they’re hard to find. Which means eventually I’ll have to fry my own rings, or slices. 

If you’re frying the onions at home, you may choose to slice them vertically, dredge and fry instead of cutting crosswise into rings, but either way, the dish will be luxuriously messy and delicious. And truth be told, you can roast the onions instead of frying them. Just be sure you salt them and drizzle enough oil over so they’ll become soft and not dry. Perhaps top with a layer of parchment.

Here’s my tomato sauce recipe for summertime eating. Make the dish with bechamel sauce in the cooler months. Folks, you don’t need a recipe. You know what to do. Procure your rings or fry or bake them yourself. You need enough to make a couple layers. Make or buy tomato or bechamel sauce. Buy parmigiano reggiano and grate it, or buy it grated. Make layers in this order: sauce, onions, parmesan, sauce, onions, parmesan, sauce, parmesan. Bake in a pre-heated 375 degree oven until heated through and the cheese melts.

Top listener-recommended onion rings

Onion rings at Cassell’s in Koreatown were name-checked by many KCRW listeners. Photo by Evan Kleiman.




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